West Virginians share advice to build up volunteer power

BY ERIN MCGRATH, OPERATIONS AND AMERICORPS VISTA PROGRAM MANAGER, THE HUB

The team at The Hub held our third virtual community conversation, Mobilizing Volunteers Today in late June. We were thrilled to be joined by guest speakers Aiden Taylor, Executive Director of Clay County Community Emergency Response Team; Dana Bryant, Communications Coordinator of Volunteer WV;  Liz Brunello with the American Friends Service Committee and WV Food ER 2020; and Virginia Shimek, PreserveWV AmeriCorps member and organizer of the Phillipi chapter of the WV Mask Army.

We all came to the table hoping to find out what exciting things volunteers have been doing to keep their communities moving forward through the pandemic, challenges organizations are facing to engagement, and to brainstorm solutions for moving towards sustainability.

Now we want to hear from you. What are the lessons you’re learning about volunteering during this time? Where do you need help? Take this brief survey to let us know. We’ll work with the support of our guest speakers to put out more information this summer about engaging and retaining volunteers in 2020! Sign up for our email list to be sure to receive the results.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from our conversation:

1 / The challenges of volunteer engagement aren’t new, it’s just different today.

We heard from some folks that momentum they had been building with their volunteers before this pandemic was disrupted. And, on the other hand, others have found themselves with volunteers eager to help but no direction. In the absence of in-person methods of recruiting and retaining volunteers, we should think of ways outside of the box to reach folks.

Whether that’s as simple as putting out a feeler to see who’d be interested in participating in a project through social media, like Virginia Shimek did and ended up starting the Phillipi chapter of the WV Mask Army, or leveraging relationships with partners in the community, like businesses, to reach new people, this is a chance to try new ways of reaching volunteers.

2 / Finding new ways of engagement isn’t just important to keep the work going, it’s important our volunteers as people.

When you’re working with volunteers regularly, it’s important to keep them engaged in the work your organization is doing so they continue to see why it’s important for them to show up. But we have to remember that our volunteers are people too. Right now, checking in with our volunteers (and with each other) about how we are doing as people can mean a lot.  And, if a volunteer isn’t able to help out right now, checking in now may make them more eager to return later.

3 / There are still gaps in our communities, and we can continue to rise together to fill the existing and new gaps.

Aiden Taylor knows all too well that volunteers are critical for filling gaps in the community across geographic areas and needs. Needs our communities already were facing before this pandemic have been blown wide open during this time. Volunteers have continued to fill these gaps, and that’s what motivates him to keep going. Dana Bryant shared with us that there are new needs coming out of communities – like blood drives – and that volunteers can support these new needs.

4 / Because we’re redeveloping our plans, we’ll be better prepared for the future.

This pandemic has given many of us the chance to reassess what’s most important to us in the work we do for our communities and to refocus our efforts. Going forward, we have the chance to set ourselves up for more impactful future work. The new ways we are finding to engage with our communities and our volunteers will allow us to bring more voices to the table going forward.

5 / And while we’re redeveloping our plans, let’s take care of ourselves, and each other.

Liz Brunello reminded us that it’s really hard to avoid burnout altogether. Rather than trying to avoid it altogether, we should instead plan on how to deal with it. We all know that we each deal with burnout differently, but we shouldn’t be afraid to help each other out. Partnering with other members of your community, and other organizations is a critical part of planning for burnout.

One thing is clear. We are better together in our communities. Thank you again to our guests and participants for a productive and inspiring conversation.

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